Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Gibraltar - Stepping into British Territory

Rock of Gibraltar
The train service between Ronda and Algeciras is limited. In Algeciras we took the bus to Gibraltar. We knew we had a tight window for sightseeing so we could make it back to Algeciras in time to catch the last train to Ronda. And the rain didn't help at all. But we managed.

The approach to La Línea de la Concepción on the Spanish side of the peninsula gave us the best glimpse of the 426 meter high limestone rock towering behind the beach and harbor. The Rock was a spectacular sight to behold!

Crossing the runway
We waited for an EasyJet flight to take off before the security barricade was lifted and we could safely cross the runway to get to the city center. Cars, buses, trucks and people moved quickly across the tarmac. In the distance we could see a lot of new construction. Gibraltar's area size is only 2.6 square miles but it's home to some 32,000 people. It's pretty crowded.

The runway of the Gibraltar International Airport
This is an active runway and as it is open to the sea on both ends, it acts like a wind tunnel. With intermittent rain showers during our visit, we got a little wet. The wind rendered our umbrella useless.

Winston Churchill Avenue
There is usually a queue of vehicles waiting to cross the runway. It's best to leave the car on the Spanish side of the border and walk across the tarmac. Buses going up to the center of town run a regular schedule if walking is not an option.

Tower of Homage
The 14th century Moorish castle complex can be glimpsed from Main Street. What's left are the Tower of Homage and the Gatehouse which were rebuilt in 1333 when the Moors reconquered Gibraltar from Spain and occupied it for the next 129 years. 

Phone booth
What can be more British than this iconic red phone booth? Remember when we used to close the door of the booth to talk in privacy? 

Tropical Foliage
How to get there from Ronda, Spain;
Our whirlwind trip to Gibraltar from Ronda was achieved using a combination of train and bus to transport us. The Altaria is not a fast train and we left Ronda at 9:18 a.m. and were in Algeciras by 11 a.m. The bus station in Algeciras is conveniently located across the street from the train station. We waited a few minutes to board the bus to La Línea which is a short walk from Gibraltar. After showing our passports to a Customs Officer, we were waved through. Outside the Customs office are tour operators offering a variety of sightseeing opportunities around the peninsula. There is a bus stop a few meters outside the Customs building on Winston Churchill Avenue for visitors who wish to take the red bus across town.

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie



Saturday, December 26, 2015

Something I look forward to

Sunrise
For several years now, on the 26th of December, I've taken a photo from my front door of the sunrise. Today there was not much to see as the fog was so thick. It wasn't until an hour after the "scheduled" sunrise when the sun finally broke through the fog to light up our day. So nice after several days of rain. We need rain though after 3 years of drought. Grateful for these blessings.

“One grateful thought is a ray of sunshine.  A hundred such thoughts paint a sunrise.  A thousand will rival the glaring sky at noonday - for gratitude is light against the darkness.”  Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway, quotes, Verse & Grumblings for Every Day of the Year 
*****
Image by TravelswithCharie

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

San Lorenzo de El Escorial

Monastery of El Escorial
It's been ages since my first visit to the monastery of El Escorial. What impressed me most then were the long corridors and one particular door with a low clearing so you would have to stoop so low to pass through. Or else.....

I was delighted to discover that I could go to San Lorenzo de El Escorial by taking one of the suburban trains from Chamartin. And the trip took less than an hour and costs 8.10€ roundtrip. So I took off one sunny afternoon to rediscover this old town. What struck me as we approached El Escorial were the spectacular mountains which dominated the landscape. Little did I realize that when I opted to walk to the monastery that I would be climbing up a thousand meters to the foot of Mount Abantos in the Sierra de Guadarrama. So I panted uphill all the while thinking, will I ever get there? I found out later on that I took the roundabout way along Avenida de Los Reyes Catolicos but what the heck. It was a good exercise which I badly needed after the overindulgence of the last couple of weeks.

The plaza in front of El Escorial was buzzing with children who were just released from school when I finally arrived. Soon they were joined by the older students whose classrooms occupy a wing of the massive and austere monastery. How lucky these kids are to learn history where it unfolded! It was in 1563 when Philip II initiated the construction of El Escorial which would serve as the pantheon of his father, Charles V, as well as a monastery and a royal palace. By the time construction was finished in 1584, the monastery also included a church and a college. The Royal Library was completed in 1592.

Royal Basilica
From the Patio de Los Reyes, you can view the façade of the Basilica which is adorned with the statues of the Kings of Judah. David and Solomon are at the center of the frontispiece. I didn't bother to go inside the monastery because it was late and I was eager to see the gardens. Formal gardens surround the palace and extend downhill to the Casita del Principe. As it turns out, the Prince's Paseo is the shortcut to the train station. What a pleasurable walk I had under the canopy of autumn tinted trees!

Paseo del Principe
There are several trails within the gardens of the Casita del Principe. The casita or house was built for the future king of Spain, Charles IV. It was meant as a retreat for the Prince where he could get away from the rigors of palace life. Trees line these paseos (14 in all, according to a map on site) and it's a breathe of fresh air to be in these surroundings. 

The Casita del Principe is a Patrimonio Nacional (National Heritage) and the Monastery and Site of El Escorial is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie


Cerralbo Museum

Foyer
The Cerralbo Museum is a museum palace which belonged to Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa, the 17th Marquis of Cerralbo (1845-1922). He was an avid collector of art and antiques which he obtained from his travels and from art auctions in Europe. His acquisitions include paintings, sculptures, drawings, tapestries, ceramics, historical documents, books, photography, objets d'art and furniture. It was one of the finest collections of its time. The palace of the Marquis was built to be both a residence and a gallery.

Hall of the Armoury
The armoury was the receiving area of this aristocratic residence. The Marquis and his Marquess, Inocencia Serrano y Cerver, greeted their guests in this hall where the suit of armor belonging to the illustrious ancestor of the Marquis, Pablo Fernandez Contreras, the first Earl of Alcudía, (who was the Admiral of the Spanish Squad that defeated the Dutch fleet in 1635) is on display. The Marquis of Cerralbo also inherited the title of Earl of Alcudía.

Dining Room
The formal dining room sits twenty four and is decorated with mirrors and paintings, particularly still life canvases. It's a somber room with diffused lighting so the ladies wouldn't look bad under the glare of electric lights.

Ballroom
The museum palace reflects the lifestyle of wealthy Madrileños in the late 19th century. The ballroom is a gilded dance hall adorned with frescoes with dance themes. The family crests are held up by putti just below the concave ceiling while busts watched guests dance and mirrors reflected their every move.

The library has an impressive selection of 12,000 books in a variety of subjects. The books on archaeology and numismatics are some of the the most important in the collection. 

St. Francis in Ecstasy, 1600-1605, oil on canvas
There are many fine paintings in the museum including this work by El Greco of St. Francis receiving the stigmata. The painter's name is written on the stone below the saint's knee. Notable Spanish painters including Ribera, Zurbarán and Cano are also represented in the collection as are European artists like Tintoretto and Van Dyck.  

The Museo Cerralbo is on Calle Ventura Rodriguez, 17. Metro: Ventura Rodriguez or Plaza de España. www.mcu.museocerralbo.es.

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie




Saturday, December 05, 2015

Chinchón, Spain

Plaza Mayor
The charming town of Chinchón is a quick bus ride from Madrid's Conde de Casal bus station through green countryside and somnolent little villages. For most of the passengers in the bus, it was a time to doze off after a busy morning of shopping and doctor's appointments in Madrid. But that was rudely interrupted when a race car driver in a black sedan cut in front of our bus with two feet to spare and the bus driver had to brake quite forcefully waking up the weary from their siesta. Then everyone started to talk at once about our close call and my once aloof seatmate who had gone to dream world after finishing her pastry, started to converse with me. She later volunteered to show me the way to the Plaza Mayor (which is also close to where she lives) and we had a pleasant conversation as we slowly climbed uphill to the square.


Claros

The Plaza Mayor of Chinchón is a 15th century square surrounded by white washed three storey buildings with wooden balconies called claros. The square doubles as a bullring during festivals particularly in July and October and it has the same hard packed surface you would find on a regular stage for a bullfight. The Plaza was a parking lot on this quiet afternoon with only a handful of visitors in sight.

Castillo de Los Condes
Chinchón has a rich history which can be traced to the Neolithic period with artifacts found in the caves nearby. In comparison, the Castillo de Los Condes (castle of the Condes) only dates back to the 15th century when Fernando de Cabrera was awarded by Henry IV the "Lordship of Chinchón" in appreciation for his service to the monarchy. His second son, Fernando Cabrera y Bobadilla, was conferred the title of Count in 1520 by Carlos V. Various wars through the centuries left the castle in ruins. It was at one time a manufacturing plant for the production of anisette, a sweet liqueur which is Chinchón's famous commodity. The castle is privately owned and the interior is not open to the public.

Rooftops of Chinchón

Halfway up to the castillo, I chanced upon this view of the rooftops of Chinchón. It was early November in mid afternoon and the temperature was just right for a stroll and some pleasant discoveries. How wonderful to find Chinchón near Madrid but quite a world away!

"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware." Martin Buber

How to get to Chinchón:
Take Bus 337 from the Conde de Casal station on Avenida de Mediterraneo in Madrid. The fare as of this writing is €4,20 each way. The buses are painted green. There is no train service to Chinchón.

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie